Combating Migrant Smuggling in Switzerland: Strategic Milestones since 2006

A number of important measures introduced over the past few years have improved the basic conditions for combating smuggling in human beings.

  • On March 1, 2006, a cooperation agreement between Switzerland and Europol becomes effective. This agreement provides for the mutual exchange throughout Europe of strategic, operational, and specialized information on migrant smuggling. Under the lead of fedpol, Switzerland participates regularly in joint anti-trafficking and smuggling operations by Europol that are carried out simultaneously in the member states.
  • The Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air, supplementing the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, comes into force in Switzerland on 26 November 2006.
  • The intercantonal Working Group on Human Trafficking/Migrant Smuggling, set up by the Conference of Cantonal Police Commanders of Switzerland, begins work in summer 2007. The group convenes once or twice a year with a threefold objective: to develop investigative approaches valid for the whole of Switzerland; to promote operational networking among police corps; and to strengthen the exchange of police expertise.
  • On 1 January 2008, the Federal Act on Foreign Nationals (Foreign Nationals Act FNA; SR 142.20) becomes effective. The new piece of legislation provides for additional and tighter provisions on the elements constituting migrant smuggling. The provisions of Article 116 FNA deal with the offence of encouraging the unlawful entry into, exit from or period of stay in Switzerland. Paragraph 1 defines the basic elements of the offence, paragraph 2 defines its simple form and paragraph 3 defines its aggravated form. Aggravated migrant smuggling exists, for example, if the perpetrator acts with the intention of unlawfully enriching himself or a third party, or acts on behalf of a group or organisation that has assembled for the purpose of commissioning an act of migrant smuggling. Aggravated migrant smuggling carries a maximum penalty of up to five years’ imprisonment and a fine of CHF 500,000. In addition, under Article 116 paragraph 1 abis FNA, effective from January 2011, migrant smugglers from Switzerland who smuggle people into the Schengen area, though not into Switzerland, can also be prosecuted. This amendment is based on an EU directive that defines the facilitation of unauthorised entry, transit and residence as a punishable offence and is valid for all Schengen member states (Council Directive 2002/90/EC of 28 November 2002). Furthermore, deceiving the authorities for the purpose of entering, staying in, or transiting Switzerland illegally (Art. 118 FNA) becomes a punishable offence. And deceiving authorities for a financial gain, for example by arranging fictitious marriages against payment, is now considered an aggravated crime and punishable with a maximum of five yearsʼ imprisonment (Art. 118(3) FNA). In order to prosecute the above-mentioned aggravated forms of migrant smuggling (Art. 116 para. 3 and Art. 118 para. 3 FNA), law enforcement services may, under the Criminal Procedure Code, order discreet surveillance or the surveillance of postal and telecommunications traffic..
  • Switzerland becomes part of the Schengen Area following the entry into force of the Schengen Association Agreement in December 2008. As a result, systematic border controls of people between the borders of Schengen states (Schengen internal borders) are abolished. At the same time steps are taken to improve international judicial and police co-operation to combat crime: security measures such as controls at external Schengen borders are tightened (in Switzerland these borders are the international airports at Zurich, Geneva and Basel), international police co-operation is strengthened (for example through the Schengen Information System, a databank network for conducting searches throughout Europe), and mutual assistance is strengthened.
  • Switzerland and the European Union sign a supplementary agreement in Brussels in September 2009, governing the details of Switzerland's participation at the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union, or Frontex for short. Switzerland contributes financially to the Frontex annual budget and makes available a national pool of experts from various fields, headed by the Border Guard Command. Since February 2011, Switzerland has also deployed specialists on behalf of Frontex to conduct operations at Schengen’s external borders, and receives international border guards at events hosted in Switzerland.
  • On January 1, 2010, another essential legal instrument of cooperation becomes operative: the Federal Act on the Information Exchange between the Prosecuting Authorities of Switzerland and Those of the Schengen States. This act is supposed to streamline the exchange of information appropriate to prevent or prosecute crimes such as migrant smuggling.
  • In June 2012, the Federal Council approves the final report by the Integrated Border Management strategy group. The strategy forms the framework for all activities by the Confederation and the cantons to combat illegal migration, commercial migrant smuggling and transnational crime, while at the same time facilitating legal entry. In 2014, the Federal Council and the Conference of Cantonal Justice and Police Directors approve the Integrated Border Management Action Plan, consisting of 68 strategic and operational measures. Some of the measures are aimed at improving the fight against migrant smuggling.
  • The special unit Gruppo Interforze per la Repressione dei Passatori GIRP is established in September 2015 in Chiasso with the aim of improving the prosecution of transnationally active smuggling gangs. The canton of Ticino is a key transit region for smuggling migrants from Africa to northern Europe, via Italy. Under the lead of the cantonal police of Ticino, the GIRP investigates smuggling networks, analyses information on irregular migration and compiles situation reports, exchanges information with neighbouring states, and develops strategies for tackling irregular migration and migrant smuggling, especially via the central Mediterranean route.
  • Switzerland, through fedpol, is a member of the INTERPOL Specialist Operational Network against Migrant Smuggling ISON, established at the end of 2015 to strengthen law enforcement co-operation in combating migrant smuggling. The network is made up of experts of numerous INTERPOL member states affected by migrant smuggling, either as a country of origin, transit or destination. ISON focuses on improving the international exchange of information.
  • Europol’s European Migrant Smuggling Centre EMSC has been operative since February 2016. The EMSC provides assistance to EU member states and third states such as Switzerland in fighting organised criminal groups involved in migrant smuggling.
  • The first training course on combating aggravated migrant smuggling takes place at the Swiss Police Institute in March 2017. The course, lasting several days, is aimed at services and agencies involved in combating migrant smuggling, such as cantonal police services, public prosecutorsʼ offices, migration offices and the Swiss Border Guard. The course, organised by the cantonal police of Zurich, the Permanent Secretariat of the KSMM and the Swiss Police Institute, will take place in future at regular intervals.

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